President Obama’s Foreign Policy: Public Diplomacy Is Front and Center

Our guest blogger is Natalie Ondiak, a Research Associate at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

obama1.jpgWhile the economic crisis in the United States continues to freefall, the Obama administration has taken bold steps to stabilize the housing and financial markets. These policies have been met with applause and condemnation. Meanwhile, some lament that: “On foreign policy, he [President Obama] has only sketched the outline.”

Other Washington foreign policy pundits are worried about the administration’s willingness to engage with Syria and Iran. President Obama’s approach to economics and national security suggest an understanding that these areas are inextricably linked and that domestic and international distinctions and boundaries are less relevant today.

President Obama has signaled that the United States economy is his key domestic priority. Throughout the world, countries think that the United States has a considerable (largely negative) influence on their economy. Nina Hachigian points out that “in an era of globalization, the effects of domestic policy don’t stop at the water’s edge.” Indeed, President Obama’s actions point to the idea that taking bold economic steps is part of his larger foreign policy strategy. In other words, economic security is national security.

On foreign policy, Afghanistan is poised to be one of the Obama administration’s biggest challenges. Yet, Obama seems poised to recalibrate U.S. engagement there. The announcement this week of a civilian surge of development and diplomacy professionals to work alongside U.S. and NATO troops is a massive shift in thinking. Gone are the days of Bush’s foreign policy characterized by saber rattling and military might alone. Indeed, this strategy in Afghanistan suggests that the war must be won, but development assistance with the aim of creating better lives and livelihoods for Afghans is smart foreign policy.

Obama’s foreign policy strategy is heavily influenced by the idea of sustainable security that argues that national security must integrate defense, diplomacy and development capabilities. Fundamentally, sustainable security is about using all tools in the national security toolbox to build a more stable world. A holistic approach to policy issues takes into account the complex linkages between countries in the world today.

Sustainable security seems poised to be the hallmark of Obama’s presidency and this recalibration suggests that the United States must engage with the rest of the world to solve complex problems. This idea will guide not only what President Obama says as a statesman but also what he does. He seems poised to take the lead in public diplomacy and redraw America’s role in the world.